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What Penn State Students Need to Know about Criminal Convictions

As a criminal defense attorney in State College, PA, a high percentage of my clients are students at Penn State and other nearby schools, like Lock Haven, Bucknell, Susquehanna and Juniata College. Therefore, I need to be particularly attuned to the special concerns for students facing criminal charges. For a college student, the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can actually be far more detrimental than any direct consequences.

All criminal convictions carry both direct and indirect consequences. The most clear and obvious direct consequence of a conviction is the sentence, while another direct consequence is having a criminal record. A sentence can be for probation, include a period of incarceration, fines or intermediate punishment, such as house arrest. But these direct consequences are rarely the end of the story, especially for students.

The first thing a student must consider are repercussions from the school. A school like Penn State will consider both the nature and circumstances of the offense, as well as any prior misconduct by a student. Sanctions can range from a mere disciplinary warning all the way up to permanent expulsion. Any time a student risks separation from the university, the student should have an attorney present for all meetings and proceedings involving the Penn State Office of Student Conduct.

Even if the student manages to stay in school, he is still not out of the woods when it comes to collateral consequences. For example, a person with no prior record convicted of possession of a controlled substance, like marijuana, normally faces a sentence of probation pursuant to the sentencing guidelines. Although he or she will go to jail only upon violating probation, there are various collateral consequences to consider. First of all, the student loses eligibility for federally subsidized student loans forever. Strangely enough, a student convicted of a sex offense or a crime of violence maintains his student loan and financial aid eligibility, while the student convicted of possessing a single joint is forever barred from student loans and financial aid. This distinction provides one of the more puzzling and illogical outgrowths of the War on Drugs.

Many criminal convictions trigger driver's license suspensions, even where the underlying offense had absolutely nothing to do with driving. The poor student caught with a dime bag of marijuana in his dorm room not only faces a bar to student loans and financial aid, but also will lose his driver's license for six months, if convicted of possession of a small amount of marijuana. Students who eschew marijuana in favor of alcohol are not off the hook when it comes to a driver's license suspension. In Pennsylvania, a person convicted of a minor's law offense such as underage drinking or possession of a fake ID will lose his driver's license for 90 days for the first conviction, one year for a second conviction and two years for each third or subsequent conviction. To make matters worse, these suspensions are always served consecutively.

A felony conviction makes it illegal for one to own or possess a firearm. In some states, a felony conviction will even deprive one of the right to vote. A felony conviction also bars one from obtaining any number of professional licenses.

No matter what the offense, a conviction makes it far more difficult to obtain a job, especially the white collar jobs sought by most college graduates. A conviction of a misdemeanor or felony makes it impossible to obtain a teaching license in Pennsylvania. A felony conviction makes it impossible to obtain certain professional licenses or qualifications. For example, a felony conviction disqualifies one form obtaining an engineering license or working in the financial services sector.

If you are charged with a crime, it is not all doom and gloom. There is hope. Not everyone charged with a crime will ultimately be convicted, even if there appears to be no viable defense to raise at trial. An experienced, criminal defense lawyer may have tricks up his sleeve, which allow his client to avoid conviction, and all those damaging collateral consequences.

If you have been charges with a crime in Central Pennsylvania, call McClenahen Law Firm at 866-806-1061 for a free consultation.

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McClenahen Law Firm

McClenahen Law Firm
315 South Allen Street
Suite 225
State College, PA 16801

Phone: 814-308-0870
Fax: 814-689-3686
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